A Choice-Point Decision Reveals My Own Immunity To Change

I am currently at a choice-point.  I can either A) renew my dues for another six months of Toastmasters, or B) not renew.

Choice B would allow me to stay safe in my comfort zone of not speaking in public. Choice A would force me to expand that comfort zone and maybe even get me to the level I’m really wanting to be at in my public speaking.  Or … is that what I really want?

I started thinking about this after my ninth speech last week, which went okay. As usual, I did get a lot of positive feedback. However, because I’m human, it’s the ‘what needs improvement’ part (which is a nice way of talking about weaknesses) that sticks, and the mind chatter goes something like, “I stink”, right? So I had already decided in my head that I would not renew my membership, because clearly this public speaking thing is just not my forte.

After a few hours of awkward relief, I started to wonder whether my decision to quit was just a “fox and grapes” moment.  As in the tale from Aesop, I (the fox) had failed to reach my goal (the grapes), so I walked away saying “They’re probably sour, so I wouldn’t have liked them anyway.”  My thinking? If I quit now, I’m not failing because public speaking is just not my thing.

It’s called cognitive dissonance, and we all do it, though now it was happening to me.

The good news is that I caught myself. The decision to quit made me feel like, well, a quitter—which, for me is worse than failing as a public speaker.  I’ve been a regular at my Toastmaster group for nearly a year and I’ve given nine speeches, so I expected to be way better by now.

Choice A, to stay and renew, would allow me to not feel like a quitter (yeah!).  Rather, because I’d be facing my fear and doing it anyway, even though I may not succeed, I would feel more like a ‘warrior’, which actually is what I feel like I really am at heart.  Even my name, Valerie, means strong and healthy, and comes from the word valiant, which means boldly courageous and showing bravery.  I’ve been an athlete since my childhood, and I didn’t become a kung fu master at age 33 from not feeling like a warrior woman.  So I guess I wouldn’t be living up to my name if I quit, right?

I suppose I’m digging in my heels because public speaking is uncomfortable for me and I’m not naturally good at it.  Wow, I think I actually hit on something – “I’m not naturally good at it.”  Hmmm.  How about that?  Something that doesn’t come easy for me naturally, and I’m still doing it anyway, after almost a year, even though I haven’t mastered it to the level I feel like I should have by now.  My mind chatter continues: “When’s the last time I couldn’t master something quickly? I can’t even remember.”

Ok, so this is butting up against a belief and way of knowing that sounds something like “hey, I’m smart, competent, a fast learner, and I’m usually good at most things I try, or at least I get good quickly, so what’s happening here?”  I’m starting to see how this is exactly what the ‘Immunity to Change’ (a model of behavior change, and book, created and authored by Harvard psychologists Drs. Lisa Lahey and Robert Kegan) which is what I’ve been studying and what I spoke about recently at Dominican University. If what’s at stake for me is that I’m seen as the opposite of any of those things (not smart, not competent, not a fast learner, etc), then what?  Then I wouldn’t be respected or successful, so why wouldn’t I self sabotage myself by quitting, in order to avoid the possibility of that happening?  (of feeling not respected and not successful)

I’ve understood the Immunity to Change concept on an intellectual level and I’ve seen how it works with some clients. I’ve filled it out and thought my way through it and kind of tested it out for myself, but now I’m really feeling it. And, as we know, that feeling is essential before adaptive change can occur.  Becoming a better public speaker is an adaptive challenge for me, and finally, after almost a year of working on it, it’s bringing up an optimal conflict, just like Drs. Lahey and Kegan said it would.

As Lahey and Kegan define this optimal conflict, the criteria is as follows:

  • The persistent experience of some frustration, dilemma, life puzzle, quandary, or personal problem that is… (Check)
  • Perfectly designed to cause us to feel the limits of our current way of knowing…(Check)
  • In some sphere of our living that we care about, with…(Check)
  • Sufficient supports so that we are neither overwhelmed by the conflict nor able to escape or diffuse it. (Check)

Check on all 4.  Wow, this is actually kind of exciting and awesome, an ‘aha’ moment. I almost wish I had created an immunity map around this personal improvement goal a year ago when I started Toastmasters (though I hadn’t yet met Drs. Lahey and Kegan or learned of their work). But now that I’m so familiar with the process, I’m going to create one, with the same goal becoming a better public speaker, and work on it during the next six months.

This is an adaptive challenge for me because, according to Lahey & Kegan, it meets the following criteria:

  • it’s a single goal that would excite me personally if I were able to make big gains on it
  • it draws on the head and heart, thinking and feeling
  • it would enable me to add more value to my job and career, and elsewhere
  • and it’s a commitment that is ‘important and insufficiently accomplished’

So it’s perfect.

I guess I’ve just written my way into my answer of what I need to do—renew my dues and keep plugging away, in spite of my resistance and immunity to change.  Even if I don’t achieve the level I’m hoping for in six months, it will grow me in a direction I’m wanting, and keep me on track.

Somehow I just figured out one of my own immunities to change, without even having created an immunity map a year ago, though that’s probably because I get how the model works – and I’m seeing how my problem is solving me, versus me solving my problem.  Actually, this is the ideal situation to be in to create an immunity map, because: it’s a commitment I want to make, it’s important to me and insufficiently accomplished, there’s room for growth, others will benefit besides me, it taps into both thinking and feeling, and growth will occur on more than just the single goal.

Yeah!! I am definitely up for the challenge… I think.  Check in again and see how it’s coming along!


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